What’s the one thing all people with ADHD have in common? The one thing they all struggle with…
Lack of self control.
People with ADHD lack control over their movements (Hyperactive-Impusle ADHD), or control over their concentration levels (Inattentive ADHD), or both (Combined ADHD).
I’ve written several blogs about what causes ADHD brains to be different—see “The Three Different Types of ADHD” or “The Physical Differences of an ADHD Brain”—but haven’t yet offered music as an option for treatment. (And be clear… by “treatment” I don’t mean cure. I mean management or betterment.)
Here are the ways research shows that music improves life with ADHD:
1. Listening to music gives your brain speed parameters
Music revolves around time… beats… rhythms. It’s notes and words that are expressed at specific moments to create the greatest feeling or sensation inside the listener.
Music can be FAST! Or music can be sloooooowwwww. Or it can be anywhere in between.
When an ADHD brain listens to music, it generally tries to “tick” at the same pace as the music. Faster music causes the brain excitement and makes it want to speed up. Slower music, however, makes the brain to relax and process thoughts at a calmer speed.
Music gives ADHD brains the parameters it needs to understand pace.
2. Increases dopamine levels
ADHD kids have generally lower levels of dopamine, which I discussed in a few of my previous blogs. Dopamine is responsible for triggering reward responses in the brain (e.g. “I did something good so I feel a sense of accomplishment), for regulating attention span, and for controlling motor movements.
With lower dopamine levels, ADHD children struggle to feel rewarded by being “good,” they struggle to focus (or not focus) on what they want, and they struggle to control their movements.
By listening to enjoyable music (not music that bores them), children with ADHD will have a boost in dopamine levels, which is greatly needed for their success and/or improvement. Their attention span is capable of functioning at higher speeds, along with their motor control and reward responses.
3. Playing music can occupy the “right brain” so that the “left brain” can focus
A human’s “right brain” is known to control creative processes, such as playing music, making art, and using imagination. The “left brain” is known to control logical processes, such as doing math, remembering facts, and analyzing things.
ADHD kids are sort of special in the fact that, instead of using predominantly one side at any given moment, they can activate both sides, loud and clear, at the same time. It can be useful, but it can also be really distracting.
Occupying one side of the brain helps them use the other side more efficiently. That way, they’re not so distracted every three seconds. Playing music, for example, can distract the right brain so that the left brain can more clearly think about math problems.
4. Learning to play music is a social act/teamwork
Kids with ADHD often have a hard time socializing because they’re easily distracted and don’t always pay the best attention to what their friends are saying. They can have friends—don’t get me wrong—but sometimes those friendships just take a little more work to maintain. They take clearer communication.
When it comes to playing music, however, kids can be a part of an ensemble that works lets them interact more freely. They can express themselves as quickly or slowly as they need to, while also still learning that when two people put two different sounds together, they can make harmonious music.
It teaches them to be aware of others and aware that what they’re doing affects others.
5. Repetition of certain songs can teach routine
A huge percentage of ADHD children struggle to stay on task with routine activities like brushing their teeth, getting dressed, picking up, or making their bed. A great way to help them stay on task with those activities is to play music for them.
Play the same music every time they brush their teeth. Play the same music every time they make their bed. Play the same music every time they clean up. And so on and so forth.
Playlists or mix CDs are perfect for this because they can hear the music in the same succession every time. The rhythm of the music also helps them set their internal timer and remind them that there can be structure in the process.
6. Releases built-up energy
I think we can all agree that banging on a set of drums is a great way to release physical energy. If you do it long enough, it’s actually pretty exhausting. And whenever music is associated with dancing, it uses up even more energy.
There’s a place in my town called KinderMusik that allows children from birth to kindergarten make music in a fun environment. It puts all the kids in a classroom and lets them basically make as much musical chaos as they want.
They learn loud and soft, and fast and slow, and high and low. It’s really neat. It also teaches them about incorporating multiple instruments into one song. These types of unstructured, fun classes are awesome kids with ADHD because it allows them to trigger the right brain creativity, while also allowing them to burn energy.
As it turns out, letting your ADHD kid start a garage band could actually be pretty beneficial.
7. Teaches creativity and self-expression
Kids with ADHD are so often taught not to express themselves because expressing their true selves would mean embracing their ADHD traits. Encouraging those children in music could teach them that their loud, excited, high-energy actions could create something really beautiful.
It’s a very literal representation of the amazing things their ADHD brains can create if channeled in the right ways.
And let’s not forget creativity. Making music is one of the simplest, most effective ways to stimulate creativity and imagination. It allows the mind to wander in productive ways.
Music is a staple in easier ADHD management, and I hope you all give it a try this week!!